Why Kmart failed

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/12/28/why-kmart-failed.html


The K-Mart up the road from me closed this year. We only went there as a last resort. I don’t like the big box stores in general, but K-Mart’s checkouts were hands-down the worst. You could be second in line and end up waiting 20 minutes. Running in for a quick thing was completely illogical.
I was always impressed by the variety of goods offered, but unless you were spending at least an hour shopping, the time in line just wasn’t worth it.


So, from Wall Street’s perspective, it was a success.

Where’s the quote from the woman who liked Kmart because she didn’t have to “dress up” to go there, like she did for Wal-mart.


B&M’s have generally had a tough time of it of late, but management by someone without an interest in having a business that functions cooperatively and productively as a store didn’t help. https://www.forbes.com/sites/darwinsbusiness/2013/09/05/sears-ignores-the-invisible-band/?sh=2c7f781d1454


The Kmarts I would shop at from time to time when I had no other choice always had the same strange odour. I never figured out what it was, but now I know: that’s the reek of complacent and greedy deadwood executives.


did yours have the same feature ours did of having around 36 registers of which only 3 were open? in ours there was always a full register at one end, a 20 item “express” register at the other and then one more full register which sold tobacco products in the middle. i never saw any more in use. it made me wonder why they spent a huge fortune on the other 33 registers.


K-Mart died because former chairman Charles Conaway & president Mark Schwartz lied to shareholders; it was a huge scandal that forced K-Mart to sell itself to Eddie Lampert, who merged it with Sears. Lampert is a giant asshat who would rather manipulate corporate balance sheets to enrich himself than ethically manage a corporation to profit other shareholders and fulfill retirement and pension promises to current and former employees.


Yes! I don’t know why but checkout was arduously slow at K-Mart. The crusty POS system was definitely part of the problem, but there seemed to be another factor where the kind of people who shopped at K-Mart were the kind that like to chat with or question the cashier endlessly. Mine never got self-check lanes, even after all of their competitors had them for years. I suspect their 80s era backend couldn’t support the self-check machines.

That said, I suspect that there was some leveraged buyout shenanigans as well that prevented the corporation from just closing the least profitable stores and putting money into modernizing and renovation. Although even that would have been an uphill battle against their reputation as the big box store that just kinda gave up.


I love, love, love how that acronym works in both ways for that sentence. :joy:


This seems to be their greatest failure. A key part of selling stuff is taking the money from customers. Despite some great deals, it was hard to get them to take my money. Just let me pay and leave!

Walmart seems to be slowly going this direction too.


At any store I have shopped at, I have never seen all the registers in full swing, even when the operational ones had lines half a dozen people deep. It is undoubtedly easier to have more registers than you ever intend to use; if one breaks, just move the line over to the next one, and having so many makes it look as if you actually plan to, if needed, open them all.


I think that decades ago, on the weekend, I saw all (or almost all) the registers used. This may have been back in the ‘80s, mind.


the superwalmart here in my town has 33 lanes of registers. in 2012, the year it opened, i saw 28 of them opened for black friday. the lines still averaged 5-6 carts deep but they did have the largest number in operation i had seen.

at the kmart i had a friend who worked in the deli which had its own register. i would sometimes do some shopping when she was working and check out over there. she wasn’t supposed to but she did. the deli was one of the least busy parts of the store and they generally had a hard time keeping female help because the deli manager had a bad case of straying hands and since she didn’t raise a fuss he didn’t care if she checked non-deli stuff. she had worked a while as a waitress at a deep ellum dive in dallas before moving back here so her attitude was that “at least it was just one guy’s hand on my ass twice a week instead of 20 or 30 a night six nights a week.”

edited for clarity


I think amazon’s test store where RFID just figures out what you have in your cart is the future. In the case of the Amazon store you just waltz out of the store without stopping (or that was the plan). There are some concerns about classism where not everybody has credit cards / amazon accounts. But the system could still speed things up if you walked up to a cashier to pay cash and they didn’t have to scan individual items.

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Various warehouses have tried the RFID approach with varying degrees of success/accuracy. There’s also the potential issue of using an RFID-blocking bag or wallet to have certain items not counted and charged for.


It used to be stale popcorn, but that may be more historical.


Visiting the last KMart in our area was a depressing experience. I’d only go there if Wal-Mart didn’t have something cheap that i needed.

The inside was a relic from the 1970s, and I could barely find any employees in sight, other than two cashiers whose work style is best described as “desultory.” It was depressing. I forgot what I bought.


Retail stores, pharmacies, and banks must all use the same overly-optimistic architect. When will they get the memo that there will never be enough employees or customers for that model to work?


Expect more self-checkout the next 5 years. Eliminates the hassle of humans
calling off because they’re in jail or their home flew away in a twister. Product shrinkage could increase, but you up your security and build the expected losses into prices across the board.

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From what I’ve heard from people in the industry, what you said is the reason: extra lanes are built so that some (or even most) can be down for maintenance, upgrades, or any other reason without having to disrupt the store.

Though I’m not in the industry, I’d guess you need almost 3x the anticipated register demand for smooth sailing. 1x in normal operation, 1x either being brought up by the next shift or closed out by the previous shift during change-overs, and another 1x for maintenance or other special purposes. That would reduce scheduling complexity and help minimize downtime.